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What is Truck Driver Fatigue & How to Prevent It
Mariah Barr
10 mins read

What is Driver Fatigue?

We’ve all gone to work feeling tired. Maybe we stayed up late watching TV, went out with friends, or simply couldn’t get to sleep the night before. Working in a fatigued state isn’t too dangerous for some of us, but when you operate any type of vehicle as a part of your daily duties, it can be deadly. 

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 13% of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are fatigued when involved in a crash. Driving fatigued can also have the same effects on the body as a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% – the U.S. legal limit – according to the National Safety Council. 

The good news? Driver fatigue is completely avoidable. Both drivers and employers share the responsibility of preventing it and putting the right precautions in place, and when they do, they make the roads we all share a safer place for everyone. 

How common is truck driver fatigue?

A University of Waterloo report found that of the 569 truck drivers surveyed, 18% acknowledged having fallen "asleep at the wheel" at some point in their careers.

Extended work hours, long drives (often during the night), and a lack of adequate sleep can all combine to create the perfect storm –  tired drivers behind the wheels of large trucks with trailers.

Dangers of Truck Driver Fatigue

How many crashes are caused by truck driver fatigue each year? 

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.

In 2020, at least one driver-related impairment factor, such as fatigue, illness, or alcohol use, was recorded for 32 percent of the large truck drivers in fatal crashes.

Truck Driver Fatigue Laws and Regulations

In order to reduce the number of crashes caused by truck driver fatigue, there are specific federal regulations that prohibit drivers from continuing to work if they are ill or exhausted to the point that their "ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle."

This also means motor carriers are prohibited from allowing their sick or fatigued drivers to continue operating in these impaired conditions.

Hours of Service Rules

In addition to the specific truck driver fatigue laws that have been put in place, the existing hours of service rules are designed to help give drivers enough time to rest and prevent them from feeling overtired and overworked.

Under the current DOT hours of service rules, property-carrying CDL drivers can work for only 14 consecutive hours and must take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time if they will continue to operate a CMV. This Foley article covers hours of service rules as well as recent changes to the 100 air mile exemption.

How Truckers Can Prevent Driver Fatigue On The Road

Taking control of driver fatigue starts with the driver themselves. Committing to healthier sleeping habits and prioritizing safer driving practices go hand in hand. 

Get a Good Night's Sleep Before Your Shift

Of course, the first step toward avoiding feeling fatigued is getting better sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, adults should aim to get between seven and nine hours, depending on age. 

With inadequate sleep, the drowsiness experienced during natural "lulls" can be even stronger and may have a greater adverse effect on a driver’s performance and alertness.

If a driver is frequently over the road, it can be tough to create optimal sleeping conditions, but it’s important to make the cab comfortable enough to get quality sleep on a regular basis. Ensure it’s dark, all distractions are out of sight and out of mind, and plenty of bedding is readily available. 

Avoid Medication That May Induce Drowsiness 

Drivers should not take medications that may make them drowsy. Take note of any medication labels that warn against operating vehicles or machinery while using them. Cold medicine, allergy relief, and sleeping pills are some of the most common medications that may have drowsiness as a side effect.

Do Not Rely on “Alertness Tricks” to Stay Awake 

Some of the most common ways drivers try to wake up are rolling down the windows, turning up the radio, drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and smoking. While these may temporarily help ward off sleepiness, they are not true solutions to the problem and may give drivers a false sense of security. 

Recognize Driver Fatigue Symptoms

While on the road, drivers should do their best to recognize any of the following indicators of sleep deprivation: 

  • Nodding off  
  • Unable to keep eyes open  
  • Decreased alertness and ability to concentrate    
  • Slow reactions to changing road conditions, other drivers, or pedestrians  
  • Lane drifting  
  • Forgetting the last few miles driven 

If a driver is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to pull over and take a break as soon as possible. And remember, the only “cure” for fatigue is sleep. 

How Fleet Managers Can Help Truck Drivers with Fatigue

You are your employees’ first line of defense when it comes to battling driver fatigue. If you can support them by providing a better work environment that promotes healthy sleep habits, they’ll not only be happier and more satisfied with their jobs, but you can also ensure they’re doing them safely. Here’s how you can do just that. 

Address Driver Fatigue in Safety Training 

Explaining the signs of fatigue (noted above) and the solutions for it in your initial and ongoing employee training can make a real difference in the performance of your drivers. Keeping the topic top of mind will help your employees recognize when they need to take a break or re-evaluate their sleeping habits.  

Abide by HOS Rules 

Make sure your employees are following all hours of service rules as defined by the FMCSA. These limitations were set with your drivers’ health and safety in mind.

Do not schedule routes or deliveries that surpass them, and make sure drivers have enough time to get from place to place if their journey includes multiple stops.

Use Fatigue Detection Technologies 

How does driver fatigue detection work?

Many recent advancements have been made in detecting driver fatigue. If you find sleepiness is a problem for your drivers, you may want to consider one or more of these solutions:  

  • Fatigue meters – this technology uses service logs to predict fatigue levels by estimating drivers’ sleep patterns in combination with their on-duty periods 
  • Wearables – fitness devices, wristwatches, and even smart eyeglasses and headwear are available to detect a lack of sleep and energy 
  • Smartphone tests – a psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) uses a reaction-timed task to measure the response time and alertness of the user 

Frequently Check in with Drivers

By making it a habit to ask your drivers how they’re feeling, you’re opening the door to discuss any concerns they may have about their jobs and well-being – and it doesn’t have to stop with fatigue. You’re also much more likely to retain drivers by showing you truly care about them and offering real solutions to any concerns they may have.  

Preventing Driver Fatigue Helps Everyone 

Fatigue is a form of driver inattention, which means everyone on the roadways can be impacted by it. Implementing better prevention tactics and remedies for this industry-wide problem means your fleet will be safer, perform their job duties better, and likely stay loyal to your company longer. We wish everyone safe travels and a good night’s rest! 

And if you need help following hours of service rules or need an advanced electronic logging device (ELD) for your trucks, Foley is here to keep your company compliant and your drivers operating safely. Sign up for a free software demo today to get your DOT compliance in order.

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